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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > July 2015 > Search and Seizure (Personal Knowledge and Reasonable Suspicion): State v. Freeman

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Search and Seizure (Personal Knowledge and Reasonable Suspicion): State v. Freeman

Question: Must an officer personally observe a traffic violation in order to have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle?
Quick Answer: No, an officer may rely on a fellow officer’s observations as long as the officer has reasonable suspicion that the vehicle stopped committed one or more traffic violations.
State v. Freeman, 9th Appellate District, Summit County, June 24, 2015

Facts:  Members of the Narcotics Unit were conducting surveillance on a home due to complaints of drug activity. Two officers were assigned to assist with any stops that might need to be made. One of these officers received a radio transmission from an undercover detective. The detective reported that a burgundy Oldsmobile pulled up to the house, a front seat passenger got out and went into the house and returned to the car within a short time period. The detective requested assistance in following the vehicle. The detective called out the license plate number, the location, and the traffic infractions the driver was making. The officer eventually stopped the vehicle. He observed the occupants making furtive movements, so he had them exit the vehicle and he performed pat-downs. He found cocaine during a pat-down of the defendant.

Importance: There is no requirement that reasonable suspicion be based solely upon an officer’s personal knowledge. Officers may rely on reliable communication from other officers. When another officer transmits reliable information that a vehicle has committed a specific traffic offense, an officer has reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. 

Keep in Mind: The court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether an officer has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In this case, the officer was made aware of the specific traffic violations before he stopped the vehicle, and the information was relayed to him as it was occurring. Based on this, the court found that the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to execute a traffic stop, even though he did not personally observe the traffic violations.